last updated 8 August 2009
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Set Dancing News

Old news and reviews—Volume 52

Copyright © 2011 Bill Lynch
There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 11997-1998, 2, 31998-1999, 41999, 51999-2000, 6, 72000, 8, 9, 102001, 112001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 152002, 162002-2003, 17, 18, 192003, 202003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 252004, 262004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 312005, 322005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 372006, 38, 392006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 432007, 442007-2008, 442007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 502008, 512008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 572009, 582009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 652010, 662010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 712011, 722011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 782012, 792012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 832013, 842013-2014 (Index).

Shindig with a facelift

As I came up to the Shindig’s new venue, the Ballyroe Heights Hotel just outside Tralee, Co Kerry, on Friday, January 23rd, the first thing I noticed was the semicircular section of the building which houses a bar downstairs and a restaurant upstairs with windows floor to ceiling looking out over green fields towards the mountains. They were snow-capped, standing out sharply against a bright blue sky in the winter sun, a pretty sight to behold.

The move to a different venue can be riddled with anxiety for organisers (here Paddy and Carolyn Hanafin), but in this case, the hotel played its part in what made the whole package so enjoyable for me. This was due not only to the views and lovely food, but also to the welcoming, cheerful staff so willing to look after people; we decided to compliment the manager. Maybe in the past I had grown too accustomed to shyly asking for something and being treated at times, if not with derision, too often with indifference. Is it the recession, I wonder, that is bringing back courtesy and willingness to the service industry? And of course, set dancing events are just that—a service provided that is needed, particularly by the heavily addicted ones among us. (Crikey, I sure as hell am one of that family!) And Paddy, compliments to you for being present everywhere, anytime, for chats, questions, photographs, being MC, sorting things out.

So to start with, on Friday night it was our coolest teacher to date, Ger Butler, for a jiving workshop. Great turnout of people—some of the Augs­burg­ers from Germany were there, and also others from Karlsruhe and Baden, and it was brilliant to meet them again. At this stage, I am beginning to feel at home at Ger’s workshops, and have loosened up considerably. Jiving for me is a strenuous kind of exercise cum dance, but lucky me, it was Johnny Reidy playing that night, which means that no matter how tired I feel or low in energy, Johnny seems to replenish it with music. That ceili was smashing, and a big crowd seemed to think so too, according to the Richter scale of applause. By the way, Paddy Hanafin had organised a temporary wooden floor extension, and promptly responded to the packed floor by having it extended further the next morning.

After basking in the sun-flooded breakfast room, there was a whole Saturday of workshops ahead, with Pat Murphy teaching sets and Ger Butler jiving this morning in parallel. Pat’s session was really lovely. He brought us the Moycullen Set again, one of the most beautiful sets I have ever danced. Pat is the most proficient and committed person that I know of and I so much enjoy his dancing and gobble up his teachings. Next up was the Bonane Set from the Kenmare area. The nice side effect of workshops is to get to talk to some people that I might have seen and danced with for some time, but never really got to know. That morning it was Claudio and Christina, an Italian couple and long-standing followers of set dancing.

The afternoon then presented us with sean nós the Gerard Butler way. The workshop is the only occasion where everyone dances it together, although it is meant to be an individual’s display of strutting their stuff. I don’t feel watched and don’t tense up as a consequence, so then I can get a glimpse of what it might feel like to actually dance a few sean nós steps and feel free doing so. There is still a self-conscious part, but it doesn’t have a strong hold at the tutoring sessions. Ger’s presence and poise appear to transmit ease.

Another peak experience of the weekend was the Saturday evening session in the bar. Nothing was organised, other than the musicians—Johnny Ashe on accordion and Tim O’Shea, guitar and vocals, joined by Peter Redmond, a set dancer playing the tin whistle, Paul Cox from Germany (and Brighton) on flute and Michael Loughnane, set dance teacher from Thurles on bodhrán, who has an uncanny instinct regarding who might want to do what at a certain stage. The flow of the session emerged organically, with Michael an organic MC. We had the Priest and his Boots and a couple of sets danced. We had eerily beautiful singing from a few people, amongst them a 95-year-old lady from Fethard, who crooned The Rose of Tralee in her own time and pacing, oblivious to the fact that the rest of the crowd were singing it in their time, which was different. We also had solo dancers showing off, Ger Tynan from Lough Ree, Ronan and Conor, two young chaps who are old hands at performing, and then five-year-old Willie Cahill, who after some persuasion gave us a fine display of steps, five-year-old style—the sweetest! We had the High-Cauled Cap, the cross chain in the Claddagh Set and Margaret Corcoran from Thurles doing a soft shoe dance complete with lifted skirt. One of the best get-togethers yet, and with half my life done, according to statistics, I have a fair chance to experience more of them!

Not much time then for a change of clothes, and off to the Saturday night ceili. There was more space now after putting down extra flooring, and a comfortable crowd danced away the night to the music of the Five Counties Ceili Band. What I particularly enjoyed was doing the Slosh, a kind of line dance, at the break when country and western music was played for the never-having-enough-not-needing-a-break-people. As a few started, the crowd got bigger, and over at the other end of the hall a couple of young folks were also doing a line dance, but it looked much more complicated than the old Slosh!

Armed with that much dancing and great music, sleep came easily that night. Had I stayed up, I would have had more though. After the official ceili there was a continuation with All-Ireland champion Damien Mullane from London on the box and Dessie Kelliher from Castlegregory, Co Kerry, on banjo, playing lovely music, so I heard.

Sunday morning then the workshops continued with Pat and Ger: the Dunmanway Set (Pat), then sean nós (Ger) and then the Clare Set (Pat) to finish in time for lunch. Incredibly, the 95-year-old lady was watching while her daughter Ann participated in the workshop, and I could see her feet going all the time! A sight to behold. Next up, the Abbey Ceili Band played for the Sunday afternoon ceili, with Matt Kelleher, cousin of Mort Kelleher, substituting for Ger Murphy. During the ceili, there was a fine display of solo dancers, with the five-year-old Willie once more, Clare Smith, a young girl with a lovely style, Sean Ryan, Connie Ryan’s nephew, Donie Lynch, whose unique style made him lose his glasses, but he carried on fine without them, and to finish there was Colin Butler, younger brother of Ger.

Dinner then was a welcome and delicious affair, catching up with friends about their experiences and we all agreed we were having a smashing time.

At night then the Lough Ree Ceili Band rounded off the weekend. Johnny Reidy and his wife Pauline were there for a night out. Johnny came to hear the band because he hadn’t heard them yet. For me, they are a reel band. A real band, too. They have caught up with some of the zeitgeist and expand on their repertoire continuously. Some of the tunes I had never heard before, and that for me is part of the joy of dancing to them.

Very near the end, my friend and I snuck out to drive home. Had we stayed, we would have lingered, talking here and hugging there, all those pleasantries. But faced with the long journey, wisdom got the better of us, so why not say the goodbyes now? Until we meet again, folks, it was lovely to see yez, take care and safe journeys wherever you are going in the meantime.

Paddy, you delivered a smooth running, exciting and highly enjoyable weekend—great stuff!

Go on ye good thing!

Chris Eichbaum, Rathgormack, Co Waterford

Here's to the Caribbean

All things are different in the stretches of turquoise water surrounding the small and bigger islands of the Caribbean Sea. Just home from a walk in the snow, trying to warm cold fingers on the keyboard between sips of hot tea, and not long before that I arrived home from a trip almost to the other side of the world. It might as well have been a different sort of planet that I was whisked off to on January 31st when I joined an Irish cruise of the Caribbean organised by Gertrude Byrne. Quite unbelievable, really.

It took eight and a half hours on one plane to fly to Atlanta from Dublin, then another two hours down to Florida. Apart from spilling coffee all over my friend and myself, the flight was smooth and comfortable as far as planes go, and that was just as well, because I am not an easy flyer. A girl I chatted to on one of the flights said she once thought she was claustrophobic, but now she said to herself that she only thought she was, when in reality, she wasn’t—a little mind trick that I adopted for my fear of flying. I said to myself, “Look, you only thought you were afraid of flying, when actually, you’re not.” Worked surprisingly well (thanks, Brenda, you must get that patented) in conjunction with Bach’s Rescue Remedy.

Arriving then in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was truly exciting. Everything I saw was like on the telly, the only place where I had seen the States before. The squad cars, the boulevards, the palm trees, the school buses, and people of all hues and quirks. We travelled on a public bus and there was a guy who held his left hand up, and when that one tired, his right hand; a woman who continuously scratched her head and shifted from one foot to the other; an older man who didn’t stop praying and all you could see was his lips moving; a girl on a hands-free phone who giggled and laughed all the time; a down and outer, his head so bent that his nose was buried in his chest, asleep; and a bus driver who let us board although we didn’t have the change that was required, resulting in an almost free ride.

Down at the piers was the most enormous ship I have ever set eyes on, a true jaw-dropper (but later I saw an even bigger one). There were eleven decks, just as many elevators, a mind-boggling amount of staff (one for every two passengers) that fell all over themselves trying to please you and about 150 entertainers, the crème de la crème of Irish stars, including Mike Denver, Phil Coulter, Annette Griffin, Mary Darcy, the three Irish Tenors, Declan Nerney, Tony Kenny, the Lough Ree Ceili Band, Michael Sexton and Pat Walsh, Robert Mizzell, Ann Breen and many more that we couldn’t see because there was so much on at all times. Ger Butler flew in three days late to do two workshops. Colin, his brother, took charge for a while until Ger arrived fresh (or not) straight from the plane, yet delivered a high standard of teaching for a crowd that had a good few beginners. He and Colin gave a sean nós display at the very last concert, while another brother Jim played the flute, and brilliant they were.

My hands are still cold—must type faster, perhaps? Or go back to the Caribbean?

And if you never danced at all, like quite a few people on board, you would not be bored for a minute. Every day there was a medley of things to do and see, like walking and moseying on deck, yoga, pilates, sauna, two pools and four Jacuzzis, a sports court, a spa offering treatments, talks on health and fitness, ping pong, digital workshops, fashion and jewellery shows, casino, bingo and bridge, a show every night with some of the aforementioned entertainers, cooking demonstrations, and of course, the stops at the islands with a wide and a few wild choices of excursions, ranging from bicycle rides to parasailing. But if you wanted to dance days and nights away, that also was fully catered for, usually starting with a band playing by the poolside from 11.30am, continuing with another one or two after lunch, more in the evening, then several playing at the same time in different venues, including a ceili every night with two or three hours of set dancing. We also encountered a lovely session one afternoon with Brendan Doyle (box) and Colin Butler (drums) from the Lough Ree Ceili Band, Brona Graham (banjo) and two girls (Elizabeth and Deirdre Wood) playing fiddle. Those two girls are from a family of eight from Ojai, California—all the kids play fiddle and dance Irish step and Cape Breton steps. This talented bunch was part of the shows at night and one of the highlights for me of the week, such was their vibrant display. The youngest son of the family, Aidan, is only eight years old and did a fine performance of step dancing. Next thing, they turned up at the set dancing workshops and ceilis, and only had to watch what was happening for a split second and caught on. They told me that they want to start going to set dance classes when they get home.

All the islanders we encountered between the Turks, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Bahamas were some of the most friendly, welcoming and warm people you could wish to meet, ready to burst into laughter, wriggle their booties for a dance and tell yarns. Take the chap at a stall selling Obama T-shirts, wooden flutes and souvenirs of all kinds. He was wearing this enormous hat under which he had shoved all his dreadlocks, that, when taken out, dangled down to his knees! He told us his grandfather was Irish, and his own name was O’Neill Pennyfeather, and as proof he presented some sort of ID card. As we collapsed laughing he sported an injured look but was reconciled when asked to pose for the camera.

All of the islands were quite different in terms of landscape. The Turks were flat and arid, still showing evidence of the last hurricane and loads of semi-wild horses and dogs called ‘potcakes’ due to them eating the cake of grits or rice at the bottom of the pot. The island still belongs to the people there, not the tourists. Puerto Rico was steep and bustling, with great shopping. The police drive around on V-engined 750 Honda choppers—cool. St Croix, Virgin Islands, was my favourite, very picturesque with floury white sandy beaches where we had a swim in the warm waters.

The fourth island stop was Half Moon Cay, owned by the cruise ship line. There a Caribbean steel band played and a barbecue was served while we chose from lots of different shore excursions. I went kayaking, which was awesome, particularly after being told by our guide that sharks and lethal stingrays come into the lagoon. We were instructed to be totally motionless if one approaches, since they hunt what moves. Later I did another excursion, the stingray encounter. Try squeezing into a wet wetsuit in a cubicle behind a curtain that was blowing hither and thither. To the lasting amusement of onlookers, here I was in the wetsuit, complete with goggles and snorkel, being told not to step on the fish as they do sting, clinging on for dear life to the staircase that led down into their waters. There were nine stingrays, huge they seemed to me, as big as any fisherman would describe. The growing crowd cheered me on to step down. I don’t think I did ever anything braver than when I finally took the plunge and went in. I can’t recall breathing, but surely I must have during the twenty minutes or so that I spent in the fenced off area of the lagoon that serves as a pool for the stingrays. A few shrieks and screams later, hanging on to the (hunk of a) guy in charge, a massive squid was put into my hand and a stingray took it, sucked it up like a hoover and brushed against my legs. Another few screeches later I found myself touching this creature of the sea, totally awestruck. If I never again do anything courageous, this will do fine as a memory of true audacity in my book. I guess I can take ‘swimming with dolphins’ off the to-do list and move straight on to ‘howling with wolves’.

Talking about live fish, the cooked ones were amazing, too, all the food on board was. As a matter of fact, a lot of what cruising is about is eating. Breakfast rolled into brunch, into lunch, into afternoon tea, into dinner, into supper with ice-cream interspersed, coffee, tea, iced tea and water on tap, and of course, room service 24/7. Food displays were artistic and colourful, with sculptures of ice and marzipan and chocolate. I must have put on a good few pounds despite the dancing, but I had been warned by folks who were on the cruise before. When we started I had good intentions of ‘finding a balance’ between pigging out and eating sensibly, but guess what, by day two the good intentions had gone out the porthole. The tastes and displays were divine indeed, the choices mind-blowing, everything instilling curiosity—I wonder what this tastes like? A culinary circus, every day a different act—we had Italian, Asian, Dutch and more, a desert extravaganza and a Dutch royal high tea one afternoon. Totally heavenly.

When I heard a steel drummer on Half Moon Cay play the Pink Panther tune, I was gobsmacked. Together with bass guitar and drums it sounded awesome. Imagine this—sitting at a bar munching barbecue, a 26°C breeze smooching your skin (not too hot), looking out on coconut trees with that backdrop of turquoise ocean and white sands, watching a man with a big knitted hat in Caribbean colours, green, yellow, red, (no doubt his rasta hair tucked away inside) dreamily moving hands here and there over the bowl of a steel drum, emitting that distinct crystal-tin sound. It was a cool day in Caribbean terms, and we didn’t mind because we got sunburnt the day prior.

Not far from the steel band, more music was to be heard. I followed it to a stage with Mary Darcy, Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh playing together and people dancing the Siege of Ennis. I joined in for Shoe the Donkey, waltzes and quicksteps. On the boat you could do that all the time, following waves of music from one venue to the next, from singalong to ceili to country and western. Music was everywhere. If not live, then it would shower down on you in the corridors from recordings. If you really needed a break, there was the spa and the library with a great selection of books. I spent time there, needing solitude once in a while, and immersed myself in Mozart’s letters to his father and wife while the ship gently rocked from side to side. Back to the present moment, the live music rocked, like the ship rocked, and all the bodies on board with it. Sometimes, the dancers would be swerving this way and that according to the ship’s motions. Going ashore, there was still a sensation of the sea underneath rocking the ground.

Of the singers, Declan Nerney provided a great show, and because of his energy there was no way I could sit down—I just had to dance. Mike Denver has a similar effect—movement is the only cure for the itch. At the other end of the spectrum, I enjoyed Phil Coulter injecting soul with ballads and stories, half sung, half spoken. The two ceili bands were Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh, and the Lough Ree with Brona Graham on banjo and Róisín MacArdle from Scotland on keyboard. They played so well together!

Most of the set dancing took place on a specially constructed timber floor in one of the indoor lounges. Heat makes you try all sorts of things, and in this case I danced in my pink crocs quite a bit, which were wonderful and did my feet the world of good. Some set dancing also happened out on deck beside the pool, where the two ceili bands would play some of the afternoons. Lots of country and western was danced there too. All things considered, we danced quite a bit of that as well, despite the many distractions, the meals we had to eat, etc. And because we didn’t have partners to do our social dancing with, we got creative and had ample opportunity to try our feet at two-hand dances, the Pride of Erin, Killarney Waltz, Fiona’s Polka, Slosh, Electric Slide, Waltz of the Bells and all those.

How all of that lingers! Snippets keep popping into my head, no matter what I am doing. It will no doubt require some time to digest and process all that happened. What, above all, this whole trip brought back to me is that this world is an amazing place and how blessed I am to have had the chance to explore another colourful corner of it in a safe and cradled way.

Would I recommend it? Oh God, yes. Yes. Yes!

Chris Eichbaum

Great times in Omagh

I want to take this opportunity to say an enormous thank you from the Glasgow set dancers to the Omagh Traditional Dancing Club for organising their annual set dancing weekend, January 30th to February 1st.

I am a mere novice to set dancing, having attended my first class in Glasgow in April 2007. Prior to this I was only familiar with ceili dances, which I have been dancing since attending céilithe as a young child at the summer college in Rannafast, Co Donegal. There the dances were all called in Gaelic and if we were caught speaking English we were thrown out—a slight disadvantage as I was born and bred in Glasgow and there was no Gaelic spoken at home at that time!

So Omagh was to be my first weekend away with the Glasgow set dancers. I had heard them speak on many occasions of the great times in Omagh and I was not disappointed.

We flew into Belfast airport on the Friday evening and made our way to the Silver Birch Hotel in Omagh. It was extremely comfortable, the food excellent and the staff very accommodating. After settling in we rushed downstairs for the welcome ceili with music by Copperplate Ceili Band. What a night—the buzz was amazing, the dancing wonderful and the home baking to die for. I didn’t miss a dance with music provided for set, two-hand and social dances. Many I knew already but folk were very accommodating in supporting me through new dances.

On Saturday we had two fantastic workshops in Dún Uladh Heritage Centre taught by Pat Murphy and attended by 140 visitors and locals. I am used to going to my class where we have three or four sets, so to see this number of people enjoying the dancing and each other’s company is heartening. Nothing felt rushed as Pat seemed to have it timed perfectly with the patience of a saint. Dún Uladh is a great venue for set dancing—lovely floor, kitchen facilities, bar, balcony, display boards with local information, events, history and photographs.

The weekend went like a dream—everything was timed to perfection, workshops started and finished on time, lunch break just long enough to allow the feet to cool down and savour the lovely homemade soup, sandwiches and home baking again. I thought I would lose some weight over the weekend with so much dancing but quite the opposite with all the eating I did!

After the Saturday afternoon workshop, Dún Uladh also provided the setting for Mass, which was a great opportunity to give thanks for the lovely weekend. Organisers had arranged for various representatives from the visiting and local set dancers to take part in the readings and prayers. Sunday 1st February is of course St Brigid’s Day and a lovely touch was that crosses made by Paddy O’Grady from Donegal were blessed during the service and presented to representatives from visiting groups.

Some of the local set dancers joined us for the meal in the Silver Birch Hotel on Saturday evening. I would like to thank the Mayo dancers for giving our group a lift on their bus which meant we didn’t need to arrange for taxis or take our cars. We thoroughly enjoyed the sing-song although I think our version of Take me Home to Mayo won’t be recorded any time soon!

On Saturday night the Dublin-based Brian Ború Ceili Band played for around 200 dancers in Dún Uladh. We were delighted with their brilliant music and the atmosphere created was electric. The dances were called by our MC for the weekend, Marie Garrity. There was also a St Brigid’s cross making area set up by Paddy O’Grady, which was a welcome diversion for some folk. After the ceili we moved through to the bar where the entertainment continued with singing, wonderful music and recitations. I have never been at a session before where the bus driver was asked to stop singing and take his passengers home instead of the other way round. We all went back to the hotel, but did we go to bed? Of course not—the craic, singing and music continued till the wee small hours.

The Sunday morning two-hand workshop was packed. The class was taught by Marie Garrity and provided a lovely, gentle way into the third day of dancing with dances which included the Ruby Waltz, Festival Glide, Spanish Jive and Circassian Circle among others. Two-hand dances are new to me so a very special thanks for the kindness of the locals who helped me through.

A brief lunch break with even more home baking was followed by the farewell ceili with music provided by Sligo-based Swallow’s Tail. I enjoy sean nós dancing so was delighted with a display from youngsters just starting off their dancing and those with a wee bit more experience—thanks to Kathleen McGlynn among others. This allowed us to catch our breath before, sadly, our final few sets and off to Belfast for our flight home in the evening. I didn’t miss a single dance all weekend so was very glad to have Monday off work to recover!

I would like to say again a very big thank you to all those who made us feel so welcome. I look forward to seeing many again in Omagh next year and hopefully even before that in Glasgow or at other set dance weekends.

Noreen Downes, Glasgow, Scotland

An education in Erlangen

One of the best fringe benefits of set dancing is the opportunity to travel the world. Set dancers can be found in dozens of countries on nearly every continent, and most of us have danced with them when they visit workshops and ceilis in Ireland. Once friendships develop it doesn’t take much persuasion to fly overseas for a visit, especially when there’s a good opportunity to dance. Judging by the number of workshop weekends they hold during the year, the Germans would appear to be the keenest set dancers outside Ireland. They usually import Irish teachers and musicians to get as close to the genuine Irish experience as they can without leaving home.

I was one of about a dozen Irish visitors to a well-organised weekend of dancing in Erlangen, a small, pleasant city in Bavaria in the southern part of Germany on February 13th to 15th. Eight of us travelled together on an early flight from Dublin to Frankfurt, and even before the landing I could see from the air that a genuine taste of winter was in store—snow was everywhere! Organiser Christian Forstner met us with a mini-bus for the three-hour trip. Roads were clear but we had to trudge our way over crunchy snow when we stopped for lunch at a beautiful cafeteria along the autobahn. My fellow travellers and I arrived in Erlangen in the mid-afternoon and were soon taking naps in our well-heated hotel rooms.

When it was time to dance, I emerged from my hotel to find a light sprinkling of snow in the air. I’d bundled myself up against the cold but fortunately my destination was just around the corner—the Unicum. This venue features an elegant, bright ballroom with a high domed ceiling and a sprung parquet floor, plus a bar and restaurant. The building was built in 1913 as an officers’ club for a military base which was taken over by the US in 1946. After the closure of the base in the 1990s the building was restored and has been open to the public since 1997. Not only was the ballroom comfortable and spacious enough for at least a dozen sets, it was convenient to be able to get food and drink at any time from the helpful staff.

Pat Murphy was the weekend’s teacher and he began at 6pm Friday evening with a few basic steps while dancers continued to arrive. Before he began teaching a set, the better half of the organising team, Andrea Forstner, welcomed everyone and showed her appreciation for Pat by reading a few lines from his interview in Set Dancing News. She said she’d be reading more from it throughout the weekend. Pat then did what he does best, teaching sets, taking us through the Moycullen Set. Andrea enjoyed the set so much that she tacked on an extra fifteen minutes to the programme so we could dance it through again before the supper break. After dining on pizza, salads and other specialities of the house, dancing resumed with music by the local Greenfields Ceili Band. Pat chose an interesting collection of sets (including the workshop set) and called them for us, Andrea gave another reading from the gospel according to Pat, and throughout there was delight on every face in the house.

After a bit of recovery time in the hotel, I went back to I hadn’t given a thought to the outside world for six hours, so I was surprised and pleased to see several more inches of snow everywhere and a heavy fall in progress as I made my way to the hotel.

Next morning, skies were clear but I had to tread carefully until I was safe inside the ballroom. Excitement was in the air, not just because Pat was planning a day of sets old and new for us, but also due to the expected arrival of the Glenside Ceili Band this afternoon on their first trip to Germany. The first set was the classic Monaghan Set, followed by the Bonane from Co Kerry, similar to the Sliabh Luachra. In the afternoon we danced the Boyne and Dunmanway sets. The morning and afternoon sessions were punctuated by brew-it-yourself tea breaks (hot water and tea bags supplied) and there was a long break for a leisurely lunch. Periodic reports on the Glenside’s whereabouts (landed, lunching, stuck in traffic, arrived) were always greeted by ever greater cheers. At the end of the afternoon Pat had enough time to fit in a two-hand dance, the Charleston.

the ballroom in time to hear the Glenside, Tom and Aidan Flood and Moyra Fraser, revving up the instruments for a sound check—they were music to my ears! After another Unicum meal, I noticed a tangible buzz in the air and followed it back to the ballroom where the atmosphere was electric. The Glenside musicians are used to generating excitement, but it might have been that bit stronger tonight as so many of the German dancers were hearing the band for the first time. Pat called more sets for us, making sure that there were few repeats from the previous night and also that one of the workshop sets, the Boyne, was included plus a song from Moyra.

Something special was going to happen when I spotted a chair being moved to the middle of the floor. Andrea announced that an all-ladies set was going to dance a bit of the Connemara Set to music by Pat Murphy himself. Tom Flood handed over his red Paolo Soprani so that Pat could do what he loves most, as stated in his interview—play music. The eight ladies were the lucky ones to dance to his gorgeous music, but everyone shared in the heartfelt tribute. Pat never looks as serious as when he’s playing the box, and it must have been a bit of a workout for him as he was noticeably moister once the two figures were over. It was back to the band after that for a few more sets, plus a waltz and a quickstep, then at the end Andrea thanked Tom, Aidan and Moyra by presenting them with souvenir gifts. The Glenside’s music ended with the Irish national anthem, though afterward a few set dancers gathered in a corner of the bar to make their own music in a session.

We resumed our dancing at 10am on a bright Sunday morning when Pat taught the Armagh Set. Local dancers showed their thanks to organisers Andrea and Christian by presenting them with a pair of enormous edible Valentine’s Day hearts. Lunch began from 11.30am—today’s timetable was not adjustable as the band and Pat had flights to catch in the evening. At the 1pm ceili Pat called more dances which hadn’t been done yet and made sure there was time for another lovely song from Moyra. Dancing finished promptly at three, farewells were quickly made to Pat, Tom, Aidan and Moyra, and they were on the road to Frankfurt airport by 3.15pm. The rest of us had more time for the goodbyes, and as a sizeable number of us were meeting up in the evening, we could postpone them till then.

Erlangen is a noted beer town with several local breweries, and about thirty set dancers converged in one of them on Sunday evening for tall glasses of beer, hearty food, a bit of dancing and plenty of laughs. We had the use of a private beer cellar with hops hanging from the vaulted ceiling and bowls of malted barley to nibble at on the tables. Once the meals had been consumed, tables were shoved aside and Andrea started her music machine. We danced a couple of figures of a set at a time, with interesting combinations of people. The first set was a normal enough, men and ladies doing a lively Sliabh Luachra. Then a set of ladies danced figures one and two of the Plain Set, and the amusement level increased when a team of gents continued with figures three and four. For maximum hilarity, reversed mixed couples, ladies dancing as gents and gents as ladies, attempted the fifth figure but that proved too complicated so the Connemara Set was substituted. There were also songs, stories, party pieces and plenty of genuine, heartfelt farewells.

On Monday I was one of a group of five Irish visitors who travelled together by rail, first to Nürnberg for some sightseeing and shopping, and then on to Frankfurt airport for a flight to Dublin.

It’s amazing how set dancing is an education in life and culture, taking us to new places and meeting like-minded people we’d encounter in no other way. Dance is a type of communication of its own which helps you get to know and become friends with people even if you don’t share a language. When you have a good weekend of fun in another country the foreign becomes familiar and strangers become friends.

Bill Lynch

Worth every minute

Travelling down from the midlands to the Step to the West weekend at the Falls Hotel, Ennistymon, Co Clare, 30 January–1 February, it was unfortunately more like “sail to the west.” On Thursday and Friday before it rained like the heavens had opened. As we were looking forward to this weekend for ages, we decided on Friday to head for the west no matter what. All the roads as far as Ennis were like rivers, with lakes here and there for good measure. But from Ennis to Ennistymon it was plain sailing—no rain!

The majestic Falls Hotel came into view, with the River Inagh cascading down over the rocks, forming waterfalls and then calmly flowing by the side of the hotel. As we entered the hotel grounds the car park was almost full and a bus load of eager set dancers arrived for the weekend from Killarney. Inside the hotel, the bar and lounge were crowded—a session had just started headed by Tim Collins, concertina player with the Kilfenora Ceili Band. This brilliant young group was set to play before and after all the ceilis. Of course, good music could not be wasted—sets formed on the floor with Gerry O’Keeffe at the helm. For the hungry, a scrumptious line up of food was being dished out at a self service counter in the bar by a friendly, smiling chef—service with a smile, it makes all the difference. More of our midlands friends joined us for food.

After that, a quick change and down the stairs to the beautiful ballroom. Tom Longe, father of organiser Sean, was at the door giving a warm Clare welcome to one and all. The ballroom floor was extended at each side by a superb well-laid temporary floor, no boards or loose screws popping up, all thanks to Sean. By now the floor was full, the Abbey Ceili Band ready. Gerard Butler was on stage to call a set if need be and to make sure sets were filled up quickly, so we wouldn’t waste a minute of the Abbey’s time. The band played their hearts out as usual and it was not long till the tea break—how time flies when you are set dancing!

Upstairs tea, coffee and freshly-made scones awaited us—all for free, well done, Falls. Some dancers stayed behind in the ballroom as country and western CDs were being played—not a minute’s dancing lost! Refreshed after tea, we went back down again to lose sweat and inches hopefully. It was a pleasure to dance to great music, good sound, and no dust or talcum. The air conditioners worked very hard to keep us cool, such was the vigour and enthusiasm of us dancers. Alas, 1am came too soon but there was still a lot more to come on Saturday and Sunday. As we were leaving the ballroom, Gerard Butler announced that toasted sandwiches and chips were available at the bar—another great idea thanks to the Falls Hotel. There was another session and dancing in the bar, but I had enough after the long journey down and brilliant mad dancing; I was ready for the leaba.

Saturday morning, the sun shone brightly in the windows, a change from days gone by. Gerard Butler’s workshop was each day from 10.30am to 1pm, teaching sets, steps, sean nós and two-hand dances. He has amazing legs and feet—for movements, I mean. At 2.30pm the Five Counties Ceili Band was on stage; my second time to hear them. They are a brilliant young band making lovely music to dance to. There was a big crowd again on the floor. A birthday cake was brought in to Shane Creed during the dancing and the band played and we all sang Happy Birthday to him. Once again it was a long lively ceili. Then Gerard Butler called the new set he taught at the workshop, the Moycullen.

Alas tonight was my last ceili. I was leaving in the morning so would make the most of the night. A queue had started early for Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band, a very popular band especially with Clare dancers. The biggest crowd yet were here, the music was electric. A lot of mad midlands set dancers, including a Clare lady, all had a jumping time together. The tea break was welcome but I couldn’t wait for to get back to dancing the second half. It was even wilder and crazier and we clapped and stamped after each set—then it was over.

I wasn’t sure if I could walk up stairs—oh my God, feet, have I got feet? But set dancing is worth every minute of the sometimes painful afters. We said our goodbyes to our many friends and to the new ones we made this weekend. We were sorry to miss Johnny Reidy on Sunday. I knew it would be another packed house when Johnny is playing. I’m delighted that it was such a successful weekend. Crowds were way up on last year—no recession this weekend. Tom and Sean put a lot of time and effort and hard work in order to make everyone feel at home. A cheque for €3,000 from the weekend’s proceeds was presented to St Flannan’s School for Autistic Children in Inagh. Well done, Tom and Sean!

Patsy Finn

Springtosh 2009

Melbourne Claddagh Dancers held their tenth annual Springtosh weekend at Spring Hill and Trentham, Victoria, over the Australia Day weekend, 23–26 January.

Forty-nine enthusiastic dancers attended a most successful weekend. Amongst the participants were visitors from Sydney, Canberra, America and Ireland, some for their first experience of Irish set dancing. Many camped at Ina and Graeme Bertrand’s property, Springtosh, enjoying the delightful bushland where kangaroos, possums and other native animals and birds abound. There was no difficulty waking, as the birds delighted us with their chorus, just before 6am each morning. Other dancers stayed in accommodation in Trentham. The weather was kind to us this year with days in the high 20s and low 30s, unlike the three days to follow, which were 43ºC and beyond.

Each day started with classes in the Trentham Mechanics Hall and the afternoons at Springtosh. Saturday’s classes were conducted by Kirsty Greenwood, who led us through the Lough Neagh Set and the Hollymount Set. Paul Wayper, who travelled down from Canberra, taught the Black Valley Jig Set on Sunday. Monday’s class was led by Ina Bertrand who taught the Melleray Lancers Set. Both Saturday and Sunday afternoons’ sessions were held on the verandah at Springtosh. These commenced with sean nós dancing, led by Kevin Hassett from Ennis, County Clare. This was his last weekend of a twelve month working holiday in Australia before returning to Ireland. The evenings allowed the participants and friends to share their musical talents as relaxed informal sessions were held on the verandah at Springtosh, playing music, singing, reciting or reading poetry, interspersed with a few sets of dancing.

On Saturday night a ceili was held in the Trentham Mechanics Hall with fantastic music being provided by Paddy Fitzgerald and friends. Close to 100 people enjoyed a night full of dancing. At supper we were entertained by Kevin Hassett who performed the brush dance. It was encouraging to see so many of the local people sharing this ceili with the Melbourne Claddagh dancers and friends. We are also most grateful to the Hepburn Shire Council which supported the ceili.

We would all like to thank Ina and Graeme for once again opening their property to us, along with planning and hosting the weekend.

Colin McMillan, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Gathering 10

In this time of economic turmoil with so many people worrying about losing homes and jobs, you might think that set dancing would experience a decline, but fortunately I can report that all is well, thank you. Folks still want to dance, and perhaps it’s even more important to keep it going in times like these. Set dancing is one of the cheapest ways to have a good time, and we know without a doubt that it’s the best. And if one of the biggest weekends of the year, the Gathering in Killarney, Co Kerry, can still attract crowds of visitors from all over the USA, Europe and Ireland for one of its best occasions ever, then perhaps our pastime is safe from recession.

This year’s Gathering, from February 18 to 22 in the Gleneagle Hotel, was the tenth, and like the nine before it, opened in the village of Scartaglen on Wednesday night. A coach brought a load of visitors to the heart of Sliabh Luachra for a pub session and a ceili in the community hall. Local dancers also came out in force to dance to Jerry McCarthy, a popular local box player, accompanied by Sean Murphy and Liam Healy. They played music so uplifting that dancing was truly effortless. I wasn’t in charge of my feet—Jerry was moving them for me! The variety of sets was a delight as well, with MC Anne Keane strictly alternating reels and polkas. Things were certainly looking up for the rest of the festival.

Those staying in Killarney for the full length of the Gathering have a good chance for rest and relaxation before the weekend begins in earnest, as there are no events scheduled during the day on Thursday and Friday. Overseas visitors went sightseeing in and around Killarney, while others went off to the Ring of Kerry or Cork. I made it as far as a big shopping centre in Tralee on Thursday and came home with a package of handkerchiefs to mop my sweaty brow. They came in handy that night at the ceili with the dynamic Clare-Cork duo Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh. Dancing began close to 11pm tonight following a concert of Sliabh Luachra music in the hotel ballroom, so there was a keen rush to the floor once the chairs were cleared. Isn’t it very hard to sit still listening to great music? In fact music is far better when you’re dancing and the lads played beautifully tonight. Still strictly alternating, Anne Keane managed to choose a few good sets, most of which we hadn’t done the previous night, and a full floor had fun with all of them.

I was suffering from an overdose of rest and relaxation on Friday and so the ceili that night came as a great relief—from now on there was dancing day and night till Sunday. The rest of the festival’s dancing was held in the enormous Irish National Events Centre (INEC), a theatre venue attached to the Gleneagle Hotel. Its many rows of seating can be made to disappear, revealing what is probably the biggest floor in Ireland used for ceilis; two balconies overhead gave spectators a panoramic and mesmerising view. From the floor you feel like you’re in the midst of a sea of sets stretching all the way to the horizon, and yet it’s roomy enough that you never feel confined or claustrophobic. On their first visit to the INEC, Brian Ború Ceili Band from Dublin weren’t at all intimidated by the size of the hall and played just as well as they do in more intimate venues. If eight sets, selected and called again by Anne Keane, plus a waltz, weren’t enough to send you off to a happy night’s sleep, there was more music and dance after the ceili in the late sessions scattered around the hotel bars and foyer.

You might think that a set dancing workshop would get lost in a venue as large as the INEC, but Pat Murphy’s workshop there on Saturday managed to attract nearly 25 sets, nicely populating the floor. It was an action-packed, fun-filled day in which we learnt four new sets, the Moycullen and Naas sets in the morning, the Boyne and Bonane in the afternoon. The Moycullen has been around the longest of the four and is already popular in classes and workshops; the rest should be following soon. Pat’s workshop was only one of three on offer at the time—Timmy McCarthy (beginners) and Mairéad Casey (sean nós) also had good attendance, so there was strong support of the Gathering’s workshops.

The former All-Ireland champions from Co Cork, the Allow Ceili Band, played for the Saturday night ceili and with eleven musicians they had no problems filling the INEC with music to the rafters. Ann Mangan called the sets tonight and after the initial Sliabh Luachra, there were mostly reel sets in the programme, including some newer ones—the Antrim Square, Claddagh and Moycullen sets. The band played mightily and the floor was fuller than ever. I discovered that the main problem with such a big ceili is finding a pre-booked partner. There was one set when I lost my lady and couldn’t find her anywhere. Fortunately I met a friend who was unable to find her gent, and as the music was about to start we quickly decided to join forces. Hopefully our missing partners did the same thing! After the Clare Lancers, the last set was called, the Newport Set, a lovely dance but not a traditional choice to finish a ceili. After it finished, we stood to attention for the national anthem when the Allow surprised everyone by churning out a rake of reels! So that wasn’t the last set after all, and our set danced the Connemara until the real national anthem was played.

On Sunday morning Pat Murphy livened up a workshop full of physically exhausted and sleep-deprived dancers by choosing the Melleray Lancers Set, always guaranteed to brighten everyone up! It’s a lively polka set with loads of fun and inventive moves and steps; the one that really wakes folks up is the kiss in the third figure. The set has a full seven figures so we were at it for nearly all of the allotted two hours. But when we finished Pat still had about four minutes left and rather than waste any valuable dancing time, he quickly proceeded to teach the Killarney Waltz.

The festival’s final ceili was on Sunday afternoon with music by Matt Cunningham. We had another large buoyant crowd, a selection of sets to keep reel dancers happy and some of Matt’s finest music. Three plain sets were danced in near succession, the Plain, Kilfenora and Corofin, and during the last of those, one set chose to do the Clare Orange and Green instead—I wish we all had the chance to do that one! After the last set, Matt gave us a big blast of reels and I was lucky enough to be dancing in a set which chose to do the Moycullen. Once the hall fell quiet everyone was slow to leave and keen to chat to their friends before heading home.

Although that was the last ceili, the festival continued with a concert on Sunday night. However, I still had the urge to dance and finished up as I began in the heart of Sliabh Luachra. This time I went to the village of Ballydesmond, Co Cork, where there’s dancing every Sunday night in Bob’s, a pub on the main street. It’s a small place with room for five tight sets and lively music by Mike Cronin and Tim Gleeson. The programme of sets doesn’t vary, beginning with two Sliabh Luachras in succession, four figures of the Jenny Ling and then a Connemara Set, with waltzes in between. The regulars dance in the true Sliabh Luachra style where position is of no importance. Tops are just those who go first, not necessarily those with their backs to the music. After a body, house or square, we never ended up where we started and were always shifting around. This can be a bit disconcerting to those of us drilled in classes and workshops to maintain our position in the set, but once you get used to it there’s a beautiful flow and freedom to it. Your place is based on the other dancers, not the four walls. After the enormous ceilis of the weekend it was a pleasure to dance at such a tiny one, and a rare treat to do it in the old-fashioned way.

The sessions were well underway when I arrived back at the bar in the Gleneagle. Chairs had been cleared from in front of a gang of musicians and set and solo dancers took turns to dance. I watched and chatted a while, then ventured off to my bed to rest up for the journey home tomorrow. The tenth Gathering was everything I’d been hoping for and I’ll be back for the eleventh!

Bill Lynch

Dreaming of the Kilfenora

From the 6th to 8th February 2009, the picturesque town of Plougastel, near Brest, in Brittany, France, famous for its 400-year-old Calvary monument, hosted a weekend of Irish dancing and music. Dancers were welcomed to the brand new Avel Vor (sea breeze) Arts Centre, home to a local traditional Breton dance troupe.

We had long been dreaming of bringing a major ceili band to Brittany, but with our limited means, we are just small clubs, the project never quite got off the ground. It was the enthusiasm for Irish music in Brittany that finally allowed this dream to come to fruition, along with the support of various partners.

After a visit to Ireland, Philippe Boisard, music teacher at the local music academy, formed a group with his students and had them learn the traditional ceili band tunes. Their meeting with Blas Ceilteach, the Brest set dancing club, led to rehearsals for Irish music and dance demonstrations, as well as their participation at our two annual céilithe in Plouzané near Brest.

The Brest music academy invites foreign musicians each year to play and this year the club was asked to invite a major ceili band. Our choice was the Kilfenora Ceili Band, remarkable for its history, musicians and style. As luck would have it, our invitation coincided with the 100th anniversary of the band and the tenth anniversary of our club here in Brest. What better way to celebrate our anniversary!

The weekend began in the main hall of Avel Vor with an interesting lecture by Naïg Raviard, a specialist on the history of dance, on the evolution of Irish dancing from its origins and on its relationship with eighteenth century French contredanse. The talk was illustrated with archive film she had collected. This was followed by a demonstration of set dancing by Blas Ceilteach, who did the Claddagh Set and figures from the Sliabh Luachra Set and Televara Set, accompanied by the Ceili Band Jarrow (Kilimanjaro), led by Philippe Boisard and made up of local musicians who would very much like to play in Ireland now that they have gained some experience. Friday concluded with a convivial drink in the village square and the news that Mick Mulkerrin, who we were expecting in Brest that evening, had been delayed in Dublin for six hours, due to snow storms. Fortunately, we were able to make new travel arrangements and Mick arrived safely on Saturday morning, just in time to have lunch with the members of the club.

Saturday afternoon was given over to dance and music. Garry Shannon gave a flute workshop and impressed everyone with his technical excellence. Ann Rynne taught fiddle and Mick Mulkerrin gave two dance workshops for experienced dancers. About eighty people from all over Brittany and from Paris took part in the dance. They danced the Aran, Limerick Orange and Green, Connemara, Moycullen and Antrim Square sets, and sean nós dancing steps. An introduction to set dancing for those wishing to attend the ceili was presented by myself and attracted over fifty first-time participants to Irish dancing. They quickly showed a good level of skill and were keen to take part in the evening’s ceili. Many of them had some knowledge of traditional Breton dancing and wanted to discover the dances of their Celtic cousins.

Next day the workshops resumed with more participants than anticipated, as the previous evening’s ceili had inspired both dancers and musicians to get to know more about ceili dancing.

A ceili was organised on Saturday evening with the Kilfenora Ceili Band and Ceili Band Jarrow and it was called by Mick Mulkerrin and myself. The highlight of the evening was of course the fantastic performance by the Kilfenora Ceili Band, who had been eagerly awaited by all the dancers of the region since the first announcement of their arrival. About 600 people were present at the ceili, from all over Brittany and from Paris and even some from Germany and the USA. Sets alternated with ceili dances to allow a maximum of people to take part. Mick Mulkerrin called with his expected excellence and I gave quick explanations in French for the ceili dances. Lots of musicians also came to join in the event.

The band started with the Clare Lancers Set and the dancers covered the floor at top speed. The Plain, Ballyvourney Jig and Caledonian sets, and dances such as the Walls of Limerick and Siege of Ennis followed. It was enough to give us the impression of being transported to Clare for a few short hours. Mick and the musicians of the Kilfenora Ceili Band said they were surprised by the generally high level of dancing. Excellent atmosphere, a truly Irish hoolie.

At the break, twenty musicians from Ceili Band Jarrow played the Connemara, Antrim Square, Sliabh Luachra and some ceili dances with a lot of swing. On their break, the Kilfenora were surprised with a Breton cake to celebrate their 100th anniversary and Mick gave a demonstration of sean nós dancing which was much appreciated by everyone.

The second half of the Kilfenora ceili was as excellent as the first, with the added highlight of a lilting solo by Garry Shannon which left everyone in awe. When the musicians were back on stage they played the Kilfenora Set, a set we just had to dance this night, called by Philippe Roudil, the president of Nantes set dance club, and we had a lot of pleasure and a lot of fun dancing it with Mick. Then we danced Hurry the Jug and the Corofin Plain Set.

The evening concluded with an exciting fifteen minutes of reels, with the two ceili bands playing together on stage and the dancers gliding from one set into the next, led by their instructors in an unforgettable moment of immense pleasure. Eyes shining with joy, feet refusing to stop and music spinning around in the head, it wasn’t easy to stop and it left a huge desire to start again soon, here in Brittany or, why not, in the Emerald Isle!

Eric Daoudal, Brest, France

The 4th green field

It’s the “fourth green field” that we hadn’t visited in all the years we have been living in Ireland. The tune of the Tommy Makem song Four Green Fields kept going through my mind as we drove into the north, not a border or passport control or anything else in sight that might have told us that we just crossed into Northern Ireland.

“Hang on a minute, wasn’t that a road sign in miles instead of kilometres?”

“Yeah, it was,” and so that’s how we found out where we were! Rainer, my husband had his driving licence and passport handy, “Just in case.” What were we expecting? Strange, isn’t it, how our minds work. Images—newspapers, stories, television—had conjured up the idea of the north of Ireland being really a different country with a violent past that as a consequence has a different feel to it. But actually, it seems more like a part of this whole island very much engaged in healing and moving forward from what we could discern from our brief visit. Rainer came back from a trip to Derry on Saturday and was impressed with the murals, a courtyard art village, a walled inner city and an attractive layout with quays and parts of the town sloping up and down, showing the potential to develop into a major tourist location.

And helping with that, surely, is bringing another set dancing weekend to the north. The guy with the courage to go for a new weekend held in the Fir Trees Hotel, Strabane, Co Tyrone, 27 February–1 March, was Liam Gallen, who has only danced sets for a couple of years or so, but has such a passion for it that he pops up anywhere and everywhere. Bravely, he offered two workshops on Friday night—sean nós with Kathleen McGlynn and two-hand dances with Angela Gallen. Going to Angela was spot on, because I didn’t know her and was taken with her ease of explaining and speed of teaching, which matched perfectly the skill of the participants. Some dances I had done before, and others were new to me and lovely, particularly the Blue Danube Waltz.

Returning to the hotel, Rainer was asleep after the long journey, and I tiptoed around to get ready for the first ceili with the Copperplate Ceili Band. The venue was a short car ride away in a hall with a great wooden floor and a comfortable feel to it. A mighty tea was served, there was fantastic music and I met some people I hadn’t seen since Drumshanbo—all in all a super start.

Saturday morning, we had to go to an unforeseen venue in town, as the one we were supposed to be in was double booked. Liam organised lifts for some folks—fair play to him. The workshop was led by Frank and Bobbie Keenan, and the hot Moycullen was taught and then the Tory Island Lancers. Frank, who I had only met once before, is a gentle creature with years and years of teaching under his belt, and stories to tell about sets, dancing, and people.

In the afternoon it was time to visit Kathleen McGlynn’s sean nós workshop. Kathleen and husband Michael, who are also the organisers of the Lordship, Co Louth, weekend in April, are one of the nicest couples you could wish to meet. Finding the attendance small was a blessing as we got a bit of sean nós history on top of individual tuition. Everybody picked up the steps quickly and so after two hours, we had ten steps off. Kathleen’s teaching suggests that everyone can do this, and I really enjoyed that time up in the second floor of the hall we had last night’s ceili in.

On both Saturday and Sunday, Liam had organised a session in the hotel lounge with The Craic, local session musicians that come together on occasion. There must have been hundreds of them, the biggest pack of musicians that I have ever laid eyes and ears on. A lot of young people played, and the music was a sheer delight. While we had a delicious meal in the rustic bar, we were able to hear their music wafting in.

The Saturday night ceili was with the Lough Ree Ceili Band, and because I love them dearly, no need to say any more, seeing that I am biased, but I will say that there was lots of applause and a good crowd danced to the uncommon tunes that the band chose to play.

Sunday was another day packed with goodies. Dancing the East Mayo Set at a workshop with Frank in the morning was followed by an afternoon ceili with Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh. They played again for the ceili that night, as Johnny Reidy was unable to come. Micheál was in mighty form at night, prancing about while playing music, coming down from the stage and surprising those of us dancing with our backs to the stage, making us jump with the fright he gave us! That last ceili was in yet another hall in another village and was perhaps the nicest of the whole lot. It was the funniest ceili anyway. Tracey from London set us off with her giggles, and soon we were all at it, just taking a wee bit of the mickey out of correct set dancing moves. And then there was that familiar sense of having come to the end of the dancing, the feeling of fullness, contentment, warmth.

What have I learned? Taking on the organising of a full weekend is a learning experience in itself, and Liam was very open to listening to and taking on board what people said. I daresay that is no mean feat in and of itself. There is a fabulous future ahead for Northern Ireland. It is a real privilege to see people building that future in peace and leaving a turbulent past behind. A lot of folks that we encountered seemed open, up for a chat and positive.

Sunday afternoon, I took half the ceili off and we went up the coast sightseeing, and what stunning sights we saw! At a beach near Buncrana the sky was the clearest blue on one side of the horizon and heavy with brooding clouds looming on the other. While the sun struggled at first to penetrate the greyness, fresh winds blew the clouds to the side, effectively banning the threat of darkness—an analogy, perhaps. And I learned that ‘wee’ means small or little and is used all the time!

Next year, this weekend will see some changes, and I have learned again that nothing is ever static, and certainly in the north it isn’t. Ye good people, do go up and check it out—have a look at the metallic sculptures of Strabane, fifteen-foot people on a green, some playing instruments, others moving towards each other and a plaque that says, “Let the Dance Begin.”

Chris Eichbaum

A dose of Irish in Africa

Letters and emails

African greetings, Bill, from an Irish exile. I have a copy of your Set Dancing News dated December 2001–January 2002! Yes, it’s seven years old, but it has its place on my bookshelves, and I know exactly where to get it when I need a dose of Irish, and then I read it from cover to cover again, against a background of gorgeous Irish dance music. Your magazine is full of great news of the extraordinary spead of the rince all across the world.

Where I live, in the Limpopo province of South Africa, that’s northeast and next to the Kruger National Park, there’s not a lot that’s any way Irish, but it’s amazing how many people have Irish connections and they’re quite keen to get together for a street party for St Patrick’s Day. And maybe moving on from there, I would like to try and interest them in learning to do some of the set dances and have gatherings like you do in Ireland and all over the world. Is it difficult to learn and where do you start? Can I buy DVDs to teach myself and others? And what are the chances of workshops in this part of the world? Bear in mind that our little village is 600km from Johannesburg and 2000km from Capetown. Hope springs eternal! My heart is bursting with pride for Ireland and all things Irish.

God bless.

Kind regards,

Maureen Mayes, P O Box 1538, Hoedspruit 1380, Limpopo, South Africa, +27 83 607 0896

I'm flattered that an old copy of Set Dancing News still gives pleasure even after seven years of repeated reading. Set dancing travellers to South Africa please take note of Maureen's details and if you arrange a workshop with her, let us know about it! And anyone with surplus DVDs is encouraged to pass them on to her.


Costa del Mayo

Good morning, Bill,

I am just back from a superb weekend in Mulranny. I never thought I would get a sun tan in Mayo in March. The workshops and ceilis were excellent. The craic was mighty. It was lovely meeting old friends and making new ones. The hotel accommodation is the best in the land.

The dates for 2010 are March 12th, 13th and 14th.

Be there.

Eileen McGuire Manchester

It may sound ridiculous

Hi everybody,

I know it may sound ridiculous—I am an Italian teacher who is now working for Tehran University. I’ll live here for a couple of years.

I used to dance Irish sets in Italy and, just in case, is there anyone dancing sets here in Tehran?

In Italy there’s a saying: hope is the last to die!

Greetings to everybody—and happy dancing!

Rossella Perugi, Tehran, Iran

I wish to engage a teacher

Cher Bill,

I see from your web site that various set dancing teachers visit France to deliver workshops. I wish to engage a teacher of Irish set and sean nós dance and ask if you can help broadcast this intent.

My humble hotel, more a B&B, is currently used by local musicians for workshops of Breton music on accordion and fiddle. Also there is a monthly Breton session at which you can learn to dance. This activity has helped me greatly to integrate with the local community.

I will now start regular Irish sessions and I would also like to arrange dance workshops at various time during the year.

Can you help?


Micheál Mac An Ultaigh, Hotel Le Cheval Blanc, 34 Rue de la Madeleine, 22130 Plancoët, Brittany, France

A credit to all involved

Dear Bill,

On behalf of my set dancing class at Darby O’Gill’s, Killarney, and myself, I wish to thank Sean and Tom Longe for the wonderful weekend we had at Step to the West, Falls Hotel, Ennistymon, Co Clare, 30 January–1 February. It was a credit to all involved. The venue was excellent with fantastic staff at the Falls—nothing was any trouble to them. The floor that was laid especially for the weekend was a credit to the hardworking carpenters. Gerard Butler did a very professional job as teacher and MC and all the bands were superb.

Well done to all. Thanks again,

Ann Mangan, Killarney, Co Kerry

Call more sets

Dear Bill,

I was wondering if you could put a suggestion in Set Dancing News asking the teachers running set dance weekends to call more sets to help people who are not used to dancing without callers.

After being away with our class of 35 for a weekend, a lot of them were very uncomfortable dancing without a caller. I think some would be put off going on the weekends because of not having someone calling the sets.

Love the Set Dancing News coming through the letterbox.

Thank you,

Noel Forde, Arklow, Co Wicklow

Website wishes


I am a big fan of your website and look it up often to find details of ceilis and workshops. You have loads of information there and only for it I would miss lots of news on the ceilis and where they are on.

Each time when I am on your website I wish that there was a way you could enter a date and get info on the ceilis on around that date. Or indeed if you could enter a county or town and also just get a page that would only display the information needed. I know all the information is there but sometimes I find that because there is so much there it is possible to skip something.

Maybe that facility is there but I just don’t know the proper way about looking it up.

Thanks again for all your information and keep up the good work.

Vincent Fahy, Clifden, Co Galway

Unfortunately the Set Dancing News website does not have these features now, but they will someday be included in a future upgrade.


So many generous people

Hello Bill,

Please convey my thanks to all the wonderful people who supported the fund raising ceili held in Wimbledon Irish Centre, London, in March. Many people donated raffle prizes and we raised more than ever before, over £2550.

The funds will be used by Group 32 of HCPT (Handicapped Children’s Pilgrimage Trust) to take twelve children to Lourdes this Easter.

At a time when everyone is talking of recession its good to know there are so many generous people in our community.

Margaret Morrin, Cheam, Surrey, England

Sean nós DVDs

Hi Bill,

As a set dancer I would like to know where I can get some DVDs on sean nós. Love the magazine. I dance with Shay White. Regards,

Rosemary Healy, Drogheda, Co Louth

I'm aware of three DVDs of sean nós dancing. Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey's Buail cois ar! demonstrates a dozen steps, as does another DVD by Maldon Meehan and Ronan Regan called Dance Sean-Nós (available from Finally, Boston dancer Kieran Jordan's Secrets of the Sole: Irish Dance Steps and Stories ( features dancing and interviews with Aidan Vaughan and USA dancer Kevin Doyle.


The last workshop

Dear Bill,

Firstly, I would like to apologise to my set dancing friends who attended Mickey Kelly’s workshop in Mulranny, Co Mayo, March 20–22, expecting to find me there. Unfortunately I was unable to be there that weekend but they will have been glad that Pat Murphy agreed to take the workshop. Thank you, Pat, for stepping into the breach—Mulranny will have been mighty with you in charge. I hope you kept Mickey smiling! Indeed, a huge thank you to Betty McCoy and Pat for all their help and support over the years.

It was to have been the last workshop that I would teach, with the help of my dancing partner Elizabeth Mulhare, so it is with particular sadness that we had to pull out of a workshop that we’ve enjoyed so much over the years, from Pontoon to Newport to Mulranny.

To Mickey Kelly, Seamus Regan, John Creed, Pat and Gerard Kennedy and all in Abbeyfeale, thank you for inviting us to teach at your workshops, which we enjoyed immensely and will continue to enjoy in the future—without the pressure.

Elizabeth and I would like to say a big thank-you to all who supported us down the years; we have wonderful memories and have made great friends in Ireland and throughout the world.

Finally how could we say goodbye without mentioning the man who started it all for us? We could never repay Connie Ryan for what he has passed on—his love of set dancing was infectious and we feel fortunate and honoured to have called him our friend!

Keep dancing and we will see you all soon.

Jim Barry, Bray, Co Wicklow

Years of enjoyable dancing


Please permit me through the medium of your magazine to sincerely apologise to set dancers who were inconvenienced in any way on Sunday 22nd March when the scheduled Devil’s Bit ceili had to be cancelled at very short notice, due to a funeral in the Templemore Arms Hotel. I contacted as many patrons as possible by phone with considerable assistance from fellow set dancing friends. I would like to thank Matt Cunningham for his understanding and courtesy in this matter.

I can guarantee dancers that we will be stepping it out to Matt and his band at the next possible opportunity in the Templemore Arms.

I would like to thank all who have patronised our ceilis in Templemore over the years and look forward to many more years of enjoyable dancing surrounded by these very special people.

Joan Pollard Carew


I’ve attended many set dancing weekends around the country and abroad but the weekend at An Grianán in Termonfeckin, Co Louth, has definitely got something extra. Not alone are you surrounded by sea, beautiful countryside and the smell of home cooking but the atmosphere created by the organising committee hasn’t been equalled. The weekend was officially opened on Friday night, January 23rd, when we were entertained by local musicians and dancers. Local band, Triskell, kept us on the floor from nine o’clock with great lively music.

There was something for everyone on Saturday morning! Kathleen and Michael McGlynn taught the sean nós dancing class, Michael Tubridy taught old-style step dancing and over fourteen sets took to the floor for the set dancing workshop. Pádraig and Róisín McEneany taught the Moycullen and Limerick Orange and Green sets in the morning with the Carragh Lake and South Galway sets being taught in the afternoon. Dancers from Italy, Manchester and Germany, along with the Irish contingent, enjoyed a great day’s dancing. For those of us who ran out of steam, the afternoon also saw two members of the Triskell Ceili Band giving tin whistle and flute workshops. Jigs and polkas were the order of the day with both classes performing for each other when workshops ended.

When not dancing in Termonfeckin, you were eating and after leaving the dinner table on Saturday night some headed to the local church where the parish choir was performing. Johnny Reidy played from 9.30pm on Saturday night with the fan club taking position in the hall shortly after nine! He didn’t disappoint, playing fantastic music until well into Sunday morning. Fantastic music was also to be heard in the drawing room where local and visiting musicians and singers entertained us from nine o’clock. It was well after two when the last note was played.

After breakfast on Sunday morning, workshops arís! There was old-style dancing in the drawing room, where a selection of dances was revised. Kathleen and Michael McGlynn, with the help of Donegal dancer Connie McKelvey, held a two-hand workshop and also revised the previous day’s sean nós steps.

The workshops were followed by what is unique to the Termonfeckin weekend, a type of social gathering, where all participants of the weekend came together. Organiser John McEvoy took on the role of fear an tí, inviting some of the people present to sing, dance or recite. What followed was truly magical! The Termonfeckin branch of Macra sang, danced and played for us. Weekend participants entertained us with songs, dancing and clever recitations. We could have stayed for hours!

Sunday afternoon saw the arrival of Swallow’s Tail. Sore, aching feet could not but dance to such beautiful, lively tunes. They played to a packed hall with over twenty sets dancing at a time. We all wanted the clock to stop, the music to continue and the Monday alarm clock to be silent. Unfortunately not!

All I can say is to those of you who have not attended Termonfeckin, you are missing out. Having already booked in for next year’s weekend, I must pay tribute to the organisers who have once again managed to put together such a wonderful weekend. Maith sibh!

Mairéad Devane, Skerries, Co Dublin

Rathkeale weekend

Rathkeale House Hotel, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, filled with musicians and dancers on Friday, March 6, as the seventeenth annual West Limerick Set Dancing Weekend got underway. Since being rehoused from Abbeyfeale a few years ago this wonderful festival continues to draw huge crowds. The venue is cosy and the friendly welcome from all the club members is hard to match anywhere else. The festival took off about 6.30pm with mighty music by local and visiting musicians in session in the hotel lounge. Club chairperson Ann Curtin contributed marvellous songs, joined by friends and visitors, the starting point for a fun weekend.

As the ballroom filled with eager dancers it was great to meet and greet so many who never miss an opportunity to dance. Shay White and gang arrived from Drogheda, Co Louth, and the Sligo bus load were in fine fettle. The Abbey Ceili Band began the ceili with the Sliabh Luachra. We had a nice selection of sets which included the Claddagh, Kilfenora and Antrim Square, and Pat Murphy called the Moycullen. The music was divine, the craic mighty and the dancers didn't want the night to end. Ann was delighted to welcome everyone, reminded us of the workshop next morning and guaranteed a super weekend. The club presented a bouquet of flowers to Betty McCoy who was celebrating her birthday.

Saturday morning at 10am Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy, our tutors for the weekend, were all set for action. The first set they taught was the Boyne Set which Pat got from Séamus Ó Méalóid. It's a little gem in my opinion, comprising four figures, two reels, a jig and a reel. This set has lovely moves. I especially love the way ladies change partners in the last figure.

Pat said he got the Cape Clear Set, the second set of the morning, from Timmy Woulfe, who in turn received it from Máire Murphy from Adare, Co Limerick. Máire was born and reared on Cape Clear Island, off the coast of Co Cork. We were privileged that she was present to dance the set in the demonstration. It has six figures, five of which are danced in a half-set, with the sixth figure in a full set, then finishing with a Stack of Barley. I was delighted to chat to Máire later in the evening, who told me that the set is still danced on the island when she visits with her family. It was danced over many years by the dancers of the island on a big flagstone outside the lighthouse. When daylight faded the old oil lamps were lit and dancing continued. What a wonderful image this conjures up! Ceili and two-hand dances were very popular. They always had live music with local musicians, including her brothers Pádraig and Finian Ó Dhrisceoil. In later years they danced every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights in a disused knitting factory where there was a lovely timber floor and kept the tradition alive.

The afternoon was dedicated to our second marvellous ceili of the weekend with the exuberant music of the Glenside Ceili Band. We danced the familiar list of sets with the Antrim Square the only challenge for non-workshop attendees. The ceili on Saturday night was a dream come true with the mighty music of Brian Ború Ceili Band on stage and Pat Murphy as our MC. We had a fantastic selection of sets including the Antrim Square, South Galway, West Kerry and Borlin sets, and the Boyne Set from the workshop.

Sunday morning Pat and Betty began the workshop promptly at 10am. By popular demand they taught the Moycullen Set. Some of us have been dancing and calling it at ceilis for the past few months. It's great to see it being danced and surely the demand to have workshop time allocated to it once more shows that dancers are anxious to add it to their list of favourites. The second set of the morning was the Valentia Right and Left. It's years since I last danced this and it was good to see one of the old sets being given an airing. Pat concluded with the Charleston and a lovely simple little waltz called the Lomond. As usual the workshops were relaxing, informal, educational and informative. Pat is a treasure of a dance master and a gentleman. He and Betty work wonderfully together.

Our final ceili of the weekend saw local box player Donie Nolan and Taylor's Cross Ceili Band on stage. Once more we had a fabulous afternoon, the music was magic and the dancers didn't spare themselves. Pat Murphy called the Moycullen, West Kerry and Antrim Square, and we also danced the popular Claddagh and some of the usual sets. Our weekend and ceili finished with the Connemara, then with Shay White, Vera Meehan and friends dancing the Priest and his Boots.

Ann Curtin thanked everyone and said we would all celebrate another superb weekend with the West Limerick Set Dancing Club next year, God willing. With a heavy heart I bade goodbye to friends and drove home while tunes and another new set were reeling around my head. I had a fantastic weekend in Rathkeale.

Joan Pollard Carew

Articles continue in Old News Volume 51.

There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 11997-1998, 2, 31998-1999, 41999, 51999-2000, 6, 72000, 8, 9, 102001, 112001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 152002, 162002-2003, 17, 18, 192003, 202003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 252004, 262004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 312005, 322005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 372006, 38, 392006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 432007, 442007-2008, 442007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 502008, 512008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 572009, 582009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 652010, 662010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 712011, 722011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 782012, 792012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 832013, 842013-2014 (Index).

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Bill Lynch   Set Dancing News, Kilfenora, Co Clare, Ireland
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